Some quick thoughts on TIMSS

TIMSS (Trends in International Maths and Science Study) doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like PISA but it is important nonetheless. The results from the 2015 tests have just been released and the Irish Report is available here. For a small country on the periphery of Europe, we are doing quite well. The headline results are as follows:

Fourth Class Rankings (Primary)

We are ranked 9 in Mathematics and 19 in Science. In maths we are ahead of countries like the US, England, Australia, Canada and New Zealand but, interestingly, we are behind Northern Ireland who are ranked at 6. England, the US and Finland are ahead of us in Science.

Second Year Ranking (Secondary)

Again we are ranked 9 in Maths but we’re better at science, coming in at 10. In both maths and science we’re effectively indistinguishable from England and the US.

Distributions Effects

All that sounds good, and it is, but there are some things to think about. At Fourth Class, our average improvement since 1995 has largely occurred because our weakest students are performing better. Our best students are performing just about the same. This pattern is repeated in the Second Year Results. What precisely this means is debatable but  it may suggest that our best students are not being challenged sufficiently, perhaps as a result of our syllabi and our assessments becoming more ‘accessible’ (as they say!).

Relative Strengths and Weakness – Content

In comparison with international benchmarks, our Fourth Class Students were:

relatively weak in geometry and relatively strong in number; relatively weak in physical sciences and relatively strong in earth science.

Our Second Year Students were:

Relatively weak in algebra and geometry and relatively strong in number, data and probability; relatively weak in chemistry and physics and relatively strong in biology and earth sciences

Relative Strengths and Weakness – Cognitive

In comparison with international benchmarks, our Fourth Class Students were:

relatively weak in mathematical reasoning but relatively strong in mathematical knowledge; no obvious trends in the science

Our Second Year Students were:

Relatively weak at applying mathematics but relatively strong at knowing maths; in science they were relatively weak at knowing and no other obvious trends were observed.

So, all in all it makes interesting reading and for me four things stand out:

  • We need to get to grips with our weakness in physics and chemistry and to do so as early as possible
  • There is a sense that there might be a bit too much rote learning going on (no surprises there)
  • If our students have a weakness in algebra then that is something we need to fix because you can’t get through a third level course in maths, physics, chemistry or engineering if your algebra is sub-standard.
  • We need to ask if our best students are being sufficiently challenged

About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Some quick thoughts on TIMSS

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Some quick thoughts on TIMSS

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